Poetry

Poetry

Euonymus Alatus

Outside my window, the bushes have turned, redder
than any fire, and the sky is the same blue Giotto
used for Mary’s robes. My mother says, if she still
had a house, she’d plant one or two of these bushes,
and I love how she’s still thinking about gardening,
as if she were in the middle of the story, even though
we both know, she’s at the end, the last few pages. Down
in the meadow, the goldenrod’s gone from cadmium
yellow to a feathery beige, the ghost of itself. Mother,
too, fades away, skin thin as the tissue stuffed
up her sleeve. The scars on her stomach
itch and burn, but inside, she’s still the girl
who loved to turn cartwheels, the woman
whose best days were on fairways and putting greens.
On television, we watch California go up in smoke,
flames leapfrogging ridge to ridge. Here, these leaves
release a shower of scarlet feathers, as everything starts
to let go. Oh, how this world burns and burns us,
yet we are not consumed.

Listen,

There is nothing new here.
Rain falls on closed peonies.
There is nothing new.

Yesterday my son brought me honeysuckle
from the garden.
Today his hair smells of citrus.

But that’s all,
nothing more,
not so much as a grain of salt on the tongue,
only rain falling on peonies
that are closed.



The ground of being

The artist’s eye caught the bent iron grating intended to separate
the living from the dead, the bars pulled apart as though a wandering
      specter

had recovered his human form, escaped a deadened community. The
      camera
lens focused the rows of tampered vaults, doors nearly askew, lines

of dead diminishing to infinity. Framed by pillars past, the photo pressed
      into time
absence of brass bands blowing funereal dirges, colorful umbrellas
      swaying

to the beat, second-liners celebrating release. I thought of reading old
      Creole stories
of George Washington Cable and Grace King, the scourge of yellow
      fever,

the cycle of death and renewal acted out in another century. Or my own
      death
and renewal in the sixties, the damp breeze blowing across the iron bed
      frame

where I lay reading Paul Tillich one Saturday afternoon. His text called
into question all that Pleasant Bethel Baptist Church had taught me,
      questions

I had never allowed to take root, Noah’s flood, the sacrificial testing of
      Abraham,
Esther’s dubious path to the throne. Driving past Lafayette Cemetery

to seminary classes, I pondered the rationale for burying the dead
above the ground, the belief that levees would hold, the cockeyed
      certainty

that the mystical combination of voodoo and faith would somehow
render the Big Easy indomitable. Katrina changed all that,

but New Orleans has always shunted bones to the rear, reopened
      tombs
for the newly dead, believed in resurrection.

















Was blind, but now I see

You have your sight, and yet you cannot see.
        —Tiresias, Oedipus Rex



Driving into the city to teach
in gray-green late summer,
I see one flaming red maple
and think of Oedipus
standing dangerously above the hoi polloi.

But it is Moses’ tree,
a call story on a highway hillside.
I want to stop traffic,
shout, “Take off your shoes, people!”

For the world is on fire
with a beauty so fragile that,
like the thread of ash
after the stick of incense burns,
one breath can topple it.











On hearing my young student in Britten's parable opera Curlew River

Somewhere in the sacred opera,
in a sea of men, the little voice,
        fearless in the face
        of the foreign marketplace of sound
        booming in the maw of the basilica,
came forth, the little voice,
like the water bird above the river.

The lost child’s chant, meant to take away
a mother’s grief, came at us
from behind.

His form, white, diaphanous, backlit,
wafted from the narthex down the nave,
one flaming wing trembling,
his treble sure, sure, soaring,
pinning my lapsed heart
to some small certainty:

All shall be well.
The ears of the deaf
shall be open, as well
as the gates
to the house of doubt.